Commentary

Lamar Odom still searching for answers

Sixth Man of the Year struggling mightily for Mavs, but he's too good not to figure it out

Updated: January 26, 2012, 4:16 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Lamar Odom missed 12 of 14 shots Wednesday night. Darko Milicic -- the dude Detroit drafted between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the 2003 draft -- blocked his shot five times.

And Odom spent the game's last 19 minutes on the bench.

[+] EnlargeLamar Odom
Jerome Miron/US PresswireLamar Odom is trying to remain patient after missing 12 of 14 shots against the Timberwolves and getting benched for the fourth quarter.

This feels like rock bottom for Odom. Nowhere to go but up, right?

He's so much better than the player we've seen in the first month of the Dallas Mavericks' season.

Odom was the league's Sixth Man of the Year last season, and he starred on the Los Angeles Lakers when they won consecutive titles in 2009 and 2010.

He hasn't forgotten how to play the game he's loved since he was kid in the Big Apple. As Odom said after the Mavs' 105-90 loss to Minnesota at the American Airlines Center, he's always been a good player.

Until now.

"All I can do is remain patient," he said.

Then he paused.

"All I can do is remain patient. An old friend of mine used to tell me, 'It's not what you're gonna do. It's what can you do. What can you do?'"

Well?

"Just play well," he said. "I mean, I still got it."

It was hard to figure out whether Odom was trying to persuade himself or the folks asking the questions.

So much of professional sports is about confidence. Right now, Shawn Marion believes he's one of the league's best players, and he's playing like it.

He's aggressive and assertive. It's the exact opposite for Odom.

Seriously, when was the last time an NBA player had his shot blocked five times in one half?

Odom is struggling. And that's being kind.

He's shooting 32.9 percent from the field, 24 percent from beyond the 3-point line and 58.9 percent from the free throw line. Last season, he shot 53 percent from the field, made 38.2 percent of his 3-pointers and shot 67.5 percent from the line.

No wonder he's averaging just 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds after averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds last season.

In the first half Wednesday night, Odom was 1-of-11 from the field, and of the 10 Mavs who played in the first half, he was the only one with a negative plus/minus. In 16 minutes, he was minus-3.

Odom played five minutes in the third quarter. He did not return after that.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron/US PresswireDirk Nowitzki shows off his championship ring before the Mavs' loss to the Timberwolves.

In the Mavs' last game, he was benched in the first half but responded with a strong second half.

"He was struggling," Carlisle said, "and we needed guys in the game that were either going to make plays or had energy or were playing better."

What seems to be missing from Odom is his joie de vivre for basketball. That's a fancy way of saying his love and excitement and passion for the game that has brought him wealth and fame in his 12-year career is missing.

Maybe he's still grieving after the well-documented tragedies he experienced during the offseason. Perhaps he's still stunned by the Lakers' trading him to the Mavs.

Sure, he's making $8.9 million this season and Joe Fan thinks he should suck it up and play better, but life doesn't work that way. He just can't stop the grieving process because the NBA season has started.

A fat bank account doesn't make him any less human than you or I.

Some folks, Kobe Bryant comes to mind, can function on the court no matter what's going on in his personal life. Everyone isn't built that way.

Clearly, Odom isn't.

The one thing he can't keep doing is having these lavish pity parties on a regular basis. Change doesn't occur without a catalyst, whether we're talking about losing weight or playing basketball.

If you're looking for reasons to be optimistic, then you should be encouraged by his aggressive approach on offense against Minnesota. He took 14 shots in just 16 minutes.

"I just missed shots I normally make," he said. "… I'm not myself yet. I don't even think I forced one. They were all good shots.

"I'm not upset, but I expect more out of myself than you could ever expect out of me. I've been a good basketball player since I can remember. If you expect me to play well, then you can just imagine what I expect out of myself."

Odom's defensive coverages are improving now that he understands the concepts, and he's running better, though he's still not in premium basketball shape yet.

Most of us figured Odom would play well this week since Dirk Nowitzki isn't playing this week to improve his conditioning and work through some issues with his balky knee.

It hasn't happened, but he'll figure it out.

He's too good to stink forever.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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